Introducing 'IDRAW Features'! First up: Leon Fitzpatrick

by Matthew Marrocco July 28, 2014

If you didn't already know, we've got some pretty creative friends here at IDRAW, and what better platform to showcase their respective ascents to creative glory than right here on our blog! Taking a multidisciplinary approach, we've lined up some pretty amazing talents - from design to illustration, concept art to fashion. They're going to walk us through their journey - from humble beginnings to landing creative gigs at the top brands, agencies and consultancies doing world-class work seen (and used) by millions.

It seems natural to begin with an individual that inspired me the instant I met him as I was being led through first-year orientation. As we toured the cavernous, minimally appointed space occupied by the Auto Design students we encountered Leon in the model shop putting the finishing touches on his Senior Thesis.  Prompted by our guide to briefly explain his project, Leon, without hesitation jumped into presentation mode giving us a thoughtful, well-articulated account of his project and why it was cool. I was simultaneously awed and inspired not only by the skill that went into crafting his final visual model, but by his calm command of his audience. The dude was good. It helped paint a clearer picture of where I wanted to be at graduation time, both in terms of skill and confidence.

Needless to say, it feels great to be able to reconnect years later in the name of inspiring other creatives to greatness. Take Leon's words to heart - he's been there, done that and designed the T-shirt.

Leon, where are you from and where did you attend school?

I’m Australian, but spent a good part of my life moving between Australia & the US, with a little time in Europe too. After high school in California I took a couple of classes at Art Center in Pasadena, before moving back to Australia where I spent a year at the University of Queensland. I then went on to study Industrial Design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in Product Design?

It was both an obvious choice and a very roundabout decision at the same time. For one, my Dad has been in this field for well over 50 years and I was exposed to it from a very young age. Design was often a point of discussion and there were always Canson renderings hanging on the wall, it was normal! At the same time I have a large family of creatives who spread themselves across every field imaginable - from fashion design, jewelry, writing and publishing, to filmmaking, architecture, illustration and graphic design - which is a lot to look up to. Choosing Product Design came down to a conversation over coffee one day with one of my brothers - who after advising me “not to be an architect” - suggested I try design, and it all just clicked.

How long have you been working in the industry and what is your current gig?

I’ve been working in the industry for almost 8 years now, in either a corporate, consulting or independent capacity. For the past couple of years I’ve been working for myself, which involves freelance and contract work for both small and large clients, both here in Australia and globally. I’ve also recently started teaching a Concept Visualization class at a local university, which focuses heavily on rigorous and rapid analog sketching skills.

What are you favorite drawing tools, both analog and digital?

I’m a fan of simple, analog tools. My favorite pen has to be the Bic round stic, the ones that cost a couple of bucks for a pack of 10. They offer smoothness and an ability to get a nice range of line weights, and since I tend to lose pens frequently they are easy to replace! Next to that I use either Uniball or Pilot Precise pens which roll out nice and black but dry quickly and are colorfast. I’ve tried from time to time to get into tablets, Cintiqs and Photoshop or Sketchbook Pro for rendering...but I always come back to missing the feel of a pen and paper; the enjoyment, the ease of sketching anywhere and anytime (and on anything), and the ability to not take any of it too seriously. While a great deal of my professional work has revolved around 3-D modeling and rendering, I’ve kept sketching as a means to explore and express my own ideas. In a lot of ways it's become more of a personal tool than a professional one.

What were some of the biggest challenges in getting to where you are in your career?

Incidentally the biggest challenges arose while trying to be honest with myself about what I wanted to do, versus following a career path that looked good on paper but that wasn’t where my heart was. It might sound lofty, but in order to be the most effective as a creative person I feel it’s important to start with those fundamental questions of purpose and place in the world, instead of trying to fit into someone else’s cookie cutter ideas about who you are and what you do. So in a way to get where I am now required a lot of difficult decisions about what I didn’t want to do, and I’ve used that as a starting point.

Were there other career choices or have you always been dead set on this career path?

Definitely the former! As I said earlier I grew up watching family members passionately pursue multiple creative paths, which left me with the belief that developing strong foundations would result in a lot of career options. I did have an urge to pursue film though, and wondered early on if I’d made the right choice with design. But I’ve managed to incorporate video production (directing, shooting & editing) as a skillset in my design career, allowing that interest to come full circle instead of it being something I felt I was ignoring.

Favorite resources? Blogs, books, websites, etc.

These days I find myself going to sites like New Scientist and MIT Technology Review as opposed to design blogs and websites, simply because I’m more interested in raw information and trends in science, business, technology & the environment, instead of seeing other people’s polished interpretations of these things. That being said I frequently read Smith Journal, an Australian publication which intersects all things cultural and creative with thoughtful writing and always unexpected topics.

How do you stay inspired?

People! Not everything is on the internet. Talking with others, engaging with students, seeing what people are up to and helping bounce ideas around - those are the things that keep me going. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a small community of like minded and determined individuals here in Brisbane which I’m extremely thankful for.

Any advice for anyone just starting out on how to break into the industry?

My advice is don’t believe anyone’s advice! There is no substitute for putting the hours in and working your ass off, and developing a strong portfolio. But put those hours into something you enjoy and believe in. I don’t believe in putting aside who you are and what you want to do in order to land that first job, because while a company might incentivize you with money, they owe you more than that in return for your work and dedication. Find somewhere you’ll be challenged and nurtured. There’s a culture of use-up & churn-out with young talent in this industry that I fundamentally disagree with. These things are hard to gauge on the surface, so leap in if you must, but don’t be afraid to leap back out if it’s not right. Follow your instincts.

Big thanks to Leon Fitzpatrick for dropping the knowledge for the first of many IDRAW Features to come. Follow him to keep up with his creative pursuits:

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Personal Site

P.S. - Make sure to follow along as Leon takes over the IDRAW Instagram for the week! Can't wait to see what he's got going on in the AU!

Matthew Marrocco
Matthew Marrocco


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